A Stand Your Ground-related bill passed the Florida Senate Wednesday, but not without some opposition.
As the original bill sponsor, Sen. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) helped write Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. He says it sprang from a specific case.
“After nine hurricanes, many people were in FEMA trailers in their front yard and this couple was attacked in their FEMA trailer,” he said. “And, this gentleman—to protect he and his wife from harm—shot and killed this intruder. And, it was months and months before he knew if he would be charged with a crime when he was doing something good. He was stopping a violent act and protecting himself and his family from harm. That shouldn’t be the presumption.”
Since that time, Baxley has gotten a lot of e-mails from critics. At the same time, he says he’s also gotten e-mails from people who appreciate the law.
“How about from a gentleman, who said, ‘I wish this would have been the law and it would have encouraged me because I didn’t take my responsibility seriously,” he added. “My wife and I got out of the car in the parking lot. I watched her brutally beaten and raped, and they almost killed me. And, I will always regret that didn’t take responsibility seriously. And, I was not prepared and I did not presume that I had the right to act, and I didn’t defend my own precious family.”
Now, Baxley favors a bill by Fleming Island Republican Senator Rob Bradley to make changes to the existing law. It seeks to shift the role of prosecutors during a pre-trial immunity hearing for Stand Your Ground.
In other words, the accused currently has to prove their self-defense claim to a judge during a preliminary hearing to avoid a trial. But, that would now shift to prosecutors—under Bradley’s bill.
“It puts the burden of proof, where I would respectfully suggests it should rightfully be from the beginning of a criminal case to the end and that is with the state,” said Bradley. “And, that the standard of proof be beyond a reasonable doubt.”
But, several Democrats spoke against the measure on the Senate floor Wednesday, including Sen. Audrey Gibson (D-Jacksonville).
“The data shows that many more people are dying as a result of this Stand Your Ground law,” she said. “And, if that be the case, why would we want to undo what the court has already told is the right interpretation to cause the death of more people who were not necessarily being violent towards someone who assumed that something was going to happen?”
Gibson is referring to how Bradley’s bill stems from a dissenting opinion of the Florida Supreme Court. A majority of the Supreme Court Justices ruled the burden should stay with the defendant and prosecutors shouldn’t have to prove their case twice.
Other Senators, like Sen. Victor Torres (R-Orlando), spoke about an additional burden on prosecutors—from a budgetary standpoint.
Foreseeing an increase in these types of cases, he says the State Attorneys will need more resources.
“This bill adds new burdens to the State Attorney’s office,” said Torres. “Their budgets have been cut, and this year, in the Senate, we’re cutting $5.4 million from their budget. That means the State Attorneys on hiring expert witnesses, ballistic, crime scene investigators, techs, going through the immunity hearing, the State Attorneys believe that at least 50 percent of the qualifying cases will result in self-defense immunity hearings will cost $12 million.”
But, despite Democratic opposition, the Senate measure passed 23-15. Meanwhile, its House companion has one more committee hearing before heading to floor.
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